Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

It was somewhat a conflicted Terry Stotts this summer when it came time for him to address the defensive blueprint of this season’s Trail Blazers.

The Blazers’ coach admitted his team’s defense for much of last season was bad. Historically bad.

But after a February trade that brought in 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic, the team’s defense dramatically improved – going from 26th out of 30 teams to tied for 10th in the NBA over the final 26 games, when Portland went 18-8.

All told, the Blazers finished the season with the 21st ranked defensive rating, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Washington.

It left the sixth-year Portland coach feeling as if he was in the spin cycle, not knowing which team or which time frame to believe … and more importantly, whether it was his system, his personnel or just happenstance that led to the wide disparity.

“I think myself, and we as a staff, have struggled with where we are, and who we are, defensively,’’ Stotts said Tuesday after the Blazers’ first practice of the season.

Perhaps most vexing was his team had a similar Jekyll and Hyde defensive trait the season before, when only after three poor defensive months did a January turnaround on the defensive end propel the Blazers into the fifth seed in the West.

“So, was that success for real?’’ Stotts asked of the strong defensive turnarounds the last two seasons. “I mean, 25 games is a good sample size. So, do we do what we do better because we’ve shown that it can work? Or do we need to change things up?’’

Last season, as the team was foundering as the NBA’s worst defense in December, he did change things up by opting to trap teams like Chicago and Minnesota which struggled from the three-point line. The decision, in part, came from a suggestion from the team’s big men, who felt an aggressive trapping style better fit their skillset and strengths.

It worked for stretches, but not enough for Stotts to make a complete overhaul.

“There was a cry for us to be more aggressive last year with active bigs and that didn’t work, but you know, we tried,’’ Stotts said. “So it’s challenging to find, for lack of better word, a defensive system that is appropriate for us because we had one. And now, is that still the one for us, or not?’’

Stotts’ has more or less kept the same defensive system which he implemented his second season, when the team acquired center Robin Lopez. Because Lopez was a cerebral player and a fearless rim protector, Stotts used a pick-and-roll defense that kept his big back and invited the ball handler to take a contested mid-range jump shot.

Outside of the pick-and-roll, a Stotts’ defense is generally considered conservative: His team’s don’t gamble for steals, rarely double team and are more cognizant of staying with shooters than leaving to help stop penetration.

Those principles led to defensive stability for two seasons with the group of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lopez. And over the last two season, there have been stretches – about 20 to 25 games each season – in which the system has been effective.

“I believe in the system we had, with the people we had …  you could be a good defensive team,’’ Stotts said. “Maybe we had better defensive players, I don’t know. But we showed that what we were doing, you could be successful.’’

So that leads us back to this summer, and Stotts’ dilemma about his defensive system. Was it the system? The personnel? Or simply the need to do what they do better, for longer periods?

“What weighed on me was the inconsistency,” Stotts said.

So it came down to a question for Stotts, one that even he is probably not sure of the answer.

“Were we a good defensive team last year or not?’’ Stotts asked rhetorically. “That’s probably the question. If we were a poor defensive team then maybe you make changes. But were the last 25 games with Nurk for real? Then we were a good defensive team. So that’s where the question lies.’’

By the time Tuesday’s first practice arrived, Stotts had made his decision: stick with the same defensive plan, with a few “tweaks” that will cater to certain player tendencies.

Also, he wants this season to improve upon the Blazers forcing turnovers.

“I’d like to be a little bit more aggressive … one of the things we have struggled with is turnovers. Can we create more turnovers?’’ Stotts said. “I think we can create more turnovers maybe by being more aggressive on the ball, but also maybe by being better on the weakside by having more focus and alertness.’’

When Tuesday’s practice started, it was with defense, a less-than-subtle reminder of its importance.

“I think our team is better committed to being defensive,’’ Stotts said, realizing as he said it that it might ring hollow. “I think you guys have heard that for six years now, it’s nothing new.’’ 

Notes: Rookie Zach Collins did not practice Tuesday because he was in the NBA concussion protocol after being elbowed in the jaw on Friday by Isaiah Briscoe. He said he expected to be cleared later on Tuesday and be ready to participate in Wednesday's practice ... Veteran big man Ed Davis took part in full-contact practice for the first time since February, when he left the team to have season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. "Ed had his bounce back,'' Stotts said. "Ed looked like the Ed from two years ago: he was lively, energetic … it was really good to see him out there.''

How to stream Blazers vs. Magic

usatsi_10415236.jpg

How to stream Blazers vs. Magic

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (14-13) will look to make it two straight wins when Portland visits the Orlando Magic (11-18) on Friday.

Portland overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Heat 102-95 in Miami on Wednesday night which snapped a five-game losing streak for the Trail Blazers.  CJ McCollum led the charge with 28 points and Al-Farouq Aminu added 15 points and 13 rebounds in the win.

Ed Davis finishied with 11 points and five rebounds.  Davis played a season-high 26 minutes. 

Center Jusuf Nurkic (sprained right ankle) missed his third consecutive game and backup center Meyers Leonard (illness) also did not play. 

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 14-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

After winning six of its first eight game, Orlando’s season is not looking as promising as the start to the season.  The Magic have lost three in a row and 14 of their last 17 overall.

The most recent loss for the Magic came at home on Wednesday night when the Clippers beat Orlando 106-95.

In the loss, Jonathon Simmons had 20 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while  Nikola Vucevic added 14 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.  

As for the injury reports, the Blazers have listed Nurkic (sprained right ankle) as questionable, while the Magic have listed Arron Afflalo (back spasms) and Aaron Gordon (concussion) as questionable.  Plus, Evan Fournier (sprained right ankle), Jonathan Isaac (sprained right ankle) and Terrence Ross (sprained right MCL/non-displaced fracture of right tibial plateau) are all listed as out vs. the Blazers.

Friday’s contest is the last of two meetings between the Trail Blazers and Magic this season.  Portland defeated Orlando 99-94 back on November 15th at the Moda Center.

Looking at the recent history between the Blazers and Magic, Orlando has won five of the last seven meetings against Portland at home in the Amway Center.

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Magic contest with Rip City Live at 3:00pm on Wednesday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

The losing streak is no more!

 

Video:   Lillard—We had to get this one

Video:   Blazers can finally exhale

Video:   Blazers needed this win in the worst way

Video:  Wednesday night Lillard showed us, sometimes, steps don’t count

 

Game Details:

Where:  Amway Center, Orlando FL

Tip-off: 4:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

The losing streak is no more!

usatsi_10476524.jpg

The losing streak is no more!

It's about Dame time! The Blazers came into Miami losers of five straight, and for much of the game it looked like they would drop number six. However, Lillard and Co. flipped the switch in the fourth quarter to bring home the 102-95 win. The Blazers, led by Lillard down the stretch, outscored the Heat 32-16 in the fourth quarter. The Blazers now have a new streak: A one game winning streak! Can they keep it going on Friday in Orlando?

Finall Score: Blazers 102 - Heat 95

Blazer rotations continue to change but the losing streak reaches 5

Blazer rotations continue to change but the losing streak reaches 5

It wasn't surprising that the Trail Blazers lost another game Monday night. The fifth straight defeat came in Oakland to the Golden State Warriors, a team that has beaten Portland like a snare drum recently.

Yes, the Warriors were without all-stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green and others -- but they still had enough to handle the Blazers with relative ease.

Portland staged a fourth-quarter comeback, mainly due to Damian Lillard's heroics. Lillard was playing with yet another new lineup combination down the stretch, this one consisting of Jake Layman, Zach Collins, Noah Vonleh and Pat Connaughton. Later, CJ McCollum came on for Layman, but this was the group that played most of the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, starters Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard, who helped stake their team to a lead after the first quarter, didn't appear in the final period. Just as Shabazz Napier -- who had put together a nice run of off-the-bench performances -- rode the bench for the entire game. Napier has not played in the last two games and has seen just eight minutes of action in the last three. This after Napier had played at least 14 minutes in all of the previous 14 games. Leonard's playing time has been odd, too -- he went four straight games without playing, then in his last 12 games has played a streak of 4, 22. 17, 4, 0, 0, 0, 8, 16, 3, 20 and 18 minutes.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Injuries have complicated Coach Terry Stotts' rotations recently, but Portland hasn't been crippled by injuries the way some other teams have. Stotts has said previously that he is more comfortable when he finds a set rotation but so far this season, it just hasn't been there.

I think it's become a problem for this team because players -- in any sport -- usually need a consistent role in order to perform consistently. Players need to know what's going to be expected of them every game.

But Stotts' job isn't easy. He has too many players who bring similar skills, too many who defend well but can't shoot and a roster that's unbalanced. His best two players -- McCollum and Lillard -- basically play the same position and he doesn't have any consistent scoring on the wings. In the middle, he has a center who hasn't played anywhere near what we saw from him during his sneak preview last season.

I don't know the answer to all this but I know the roster isn't going to change much. It's locked in. I think at some point the coach is going to have to make rotation choices and stick with them. I think, too, he may need to define who his shooters are and make sure they get more shots than the ones who can't make shots.

And hope that his team stays together long enough to get things straightened out.

Blazers can't keep pace with Warriors in 111-104 loss

usatsi_10474705_1.jpg

Blazers can't keep pace with Warriors in 111-104 loss

Even without Steph Curry and Draymond Green, the Warriors were just too much for the Trail Blazers. Portland fell to Golden State, 111-104, dropping the first game of a five-game road trip, and losing their fifth game in a row. The Blazers now look to right the ship on Wednesday in Miami.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Final Score: Warriors 111 – Blazers 104

Postgame Videos:
Damian Lillard
CJ McCollum

How to stream Blazers vs. Warriors

usatsi_10021236.jpg

How to stream Blazers vs. Warriors

In addition to our normal game streaming for NBCS Northwest customers via the NBC Sports App, if you don't get NBCS Northwest but live in the Trail Blazer territory you can now sign up for our NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” a 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-12) now hit the road for matchup on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors  (21-6).

Portland dropped its fourth straight game on Saturday night, 124-117 at the Moda Center to the Houston Rockets.  The Blazers were without Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Maurice Harkless (left quad) for Saturday’s contest.

In the loss, Damian Lillard finished with 35 points, six assists and four rebounds.  Lillard also made a franchise-record-tying nine three-pointers on the night. CJ McCollum added 28 points and four assists.

Monday’s game marks the start of a five-game raod trip for the Blazers.

[If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.]

As for Golden State, the Warriors defeated the Detroit Pistons 102-98 on Friday night on the road. Kevin Durant finished with a double-double of 36 points and 10 rebounds.  He also dished out seven assists and five blocks. Kevin Thompson had 21 points in Friday’s victory.

The Trail Blazers have listed Maurice Harakless (left quad) as questionable for Monday's contest, while Jusuf Nurkic is out vs. the Warriors.  Draymond Green (right shoulder) is listed as probable, Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder) is doubtful, and Steph Curry (sprained right ankle) is out.

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Warriors contest with a special hour-long Rip City Live at 6:00pm on Monday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

Rockets dictated Portland’s 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

 

Video:   Is this the lineup for against the Warriors?

Video:   The Blazers fought hard, but maybe not hard enough

Video:   Meyers Leonard – The Enforcer

Video:   Blazers show life, but can’t ground Rockets


 

Game Details:

Where:  Oracle Arena, Oakland CA

Tip-off: 7:30pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO STOP THEM AT ALL WITH THAT SMALL LINEUP SO SCRAP IT AND GET SOME SHOOTERS OUT THERE!
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

usatsi_10470778_147386290_lowres.jpg

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

The Trail Blazers were looking pretty at the end of the third quarter holding a 14 point lead. Then the fourth quarter happened and the Rockets posted 40 points in the quarter alone to come away with the victory. The loss is the Trail Blazers fourth in a row at home. Damian Lillard tied a team record with nine made three pointers, but also came away with an ankle injury as he hobbled through the fourth quarter. 

Box Score: Houston 124, Portland 117

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Quick Hits:

How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

usatsi_9982346.jpg
USA Today

How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-11) are looking to snap a three-game losing streak after falling to the Washing Wizards last Tuesday. However, it will be no easy task as the Blazers play host to the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets (19-4) on Saturday night.

To make matters worse the Blazers will be without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, after he suffered a right-ankle sprain late in the loss to the Wizards. A timetable for his return to the court it currently unknown. Starting small forward Maurice Harkless, who also left the Wizards game with an injury, is listed as questionable.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

The Rockets are riding an eight-game winning streak, having not dropped a game since a 129-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors back on November 14. As is usual, the Rockets are led by shooting guard James Harden. “The Beard” leads the NBA in points per game at 31.6, and his 9.4 assists are second (among those who qualify) only to Russell Westbrook.

The Rockets made a big splash this off-season when they acquired former Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Many experts wondered if the two ball dominant guards could co-exist. The answer has bee an emphatic “yes.”

Paul has played just nine games this season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.1 assists per game. Paul injured his knee in the season opening victory over the Golden State Warriors on October 17, and didn’t return to the lineup until November 16.

However, proving that the Paul-Harden combo works just fine, the Rockets are 9-0 in when Paul is in the lineup.  

Can the Blazers give Paul the first blemish is his Rockets records, or will the Rockets hand the Blazers their fourth consecutive loss?

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Rockets contest with Rip City Live at 6:00pm on Saturday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 

Trail Blazers will be without Jusuf Nurkic against Houston

Trail Blazers will be without Jusuf Nurkic against Houston

Trail Blazers starting center Jusuf Nurkic will miss Saturday’s game against Houston because of a sprained right ankle suffered in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss against Washington.

Nurkic, who is averaging 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in 28 minutes a game, rolled his ankle after taking a shot with 6:28 left in the fourth quarter. He did not practice on Thursday and Friday, although he was seen walking off the court Friday without a limp.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

Coach Terry Stotts did not say who would start at center against the Western Conference leading Rockets (19-4) and starting center Clint Capela, who is averaging 13.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 66.1 percent from the field.

Candidates to start for the Blazers are Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, rookie Zach Collins and Noah Vonleh.

In other injury news, forward Maurice Harkless, who regained his starting spot Tuesday against Washington, is listed as questionable for Houston because of a bruised left quadriceps suffered in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game.